Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Paradox of Planning

I've always known that one of the reasons that it is near impossible for me to make plans and decisions is that knowing what's going to happen, to me, ruins everything. It's so much more fun to be surprised. To be able to fully experience life just happening is my greatest ambition. But most people don't seem to see it that way - they seem to thrive on routine yet strive to accomplish a lot. The self-improvement industry certainly appears to be targeting this quality like mad at least, judging by the astounding number of guides and devices on the market that offer up a means of incorporating more and more activities into our already jam-packed schedules, without disrupting one's routine. To me this is paradoxical, because if you relegate an activity to your routine, then its no more of an accomplishment then say, brushing your teeth, and then everything becomes banal, and the banality of life is something I need to avoid.

So when I started reading The Happiness Project for my non-fiction book club, I just started rolling my eyes. I was thinking a more apt title would be The Banality Project, because the author seemed to be just cutting up her life up into little pieces so she could accomplish more and thus, be happier. Snore. But to my surprise, I kept reading the book, and I kept liking it more and more. I know its not because I would want to do any of the things that she did to get happy. So why did I like it? I think it's because she was so focused on changing herself so she could be prepared to be happy when circumstances challenged her to not be. I like that a lot. So much to my chagrin, this achiever, made me realize that another reason I don't like to plan is because I like to surprise myself, rather than just being surprised. So thanks Gretchen Rubin. Now I have some advice for you - take a day off please.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Mastering the Art of Procrastination

In terms of not doing anything on my anti-resolution list, 2009 was wildly successful. However, I did spend way too much time doing things that I shouldn't care about and not enough on the things I do. In other words, I have not mastered the art of procrastination. I could work harder at it, but wouldn't that be oxymoronic?

Alternatively, I could work on something else. Like - brace for it - time management. Yikes, that hurt to say.

Give me a moment.

Yeah, so if the thought of managing ones time more efficiently (yuck - even worse) outside of work is equally as distasteful to you as it is to me, you'll understand that its not an easy thing to tackle. Unfortunately, unlike just not doing stuff, we can't just not do time. Like it or not, we're doing it. So if we fill it up with stuff we have to do as well as stuff we shouldn't do, then there's no time left to do the stuff we want to do.

There's a TON of information out there on how to manage one's time more efficiently. But if your a procrastinator like me, you're probably not going to consult it. So I'll propose a simple solution - make two lists. One long and one short. The long list is all the things you have to do and want to do, and the short list is a subset of that list. On the short list, put two things that you have to do most, and two things that you want to do most. As you cross things off the short list, replace them with things from the long list. That's it.

In terms of things you want to do, I'm not talking about going to the movies or the museum. I'm talking about things you want to do that take some effort and dedication. The easy and effortless things are priority number one, and chances are (especially if you are fan of this blog) you aren't having trouble doing those in lieu of the things you shouldn't be bothering to do. Things like, for me for example, posting to your blog, writing a book, and playing the piano, take a bit of effort, and sometimes things that you shouldn't bother doing are more appealing alternatives in the short term.

What are these things that you shouldn't be doing? The things that are completely absent from your lists; they are probably different for everyone, but for me examples include picking up after my family members and straightening the house before people come over. They are the things that fill up your time but make no difference in the long run and you simply don't have to do them. Eventually, someone else will pick up their things and who cares if people come over and see how you really live? These things are sneaky; you can spend well over an hour on them before you snap out of the false productivity spell they have over you.

So I guess I've come full circle. The key to mastering the art of procrastination is not doing even more.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Bridge Uncrossed

A guest post from kindred spirit, Lazy Mom

Procrastination is often mentioned as if it is a bad thing which I find odd when there are so many things in life that are REALLY a waste of time...such as cleaning and thank you notes and NO ONE says one negative word about them.

Other than the thousands of hours I have saved by NOT scrubbing my kitchen floor on a regular basis or lighting scented candles or worrying about the grimy build-up of dirt on the carpet near my front door (which apparently horrifies millions of women) procrastination has also been a constant source of happiness in my life.

I learned procrastination from my parents. They loved to sit on the shady brick patio which led out to the backyard from the kitchen with their coffee and cigarettes and watch the endless array of children and animals and neighbors. The patio--with its director’s chairs and the Sunday Times spread out on the slate coffee table and the conversations about Nixon or Norman Mailer or where to buy the best panettone in the Village—was the place to be. Everyone would come by with stories to tell or projects to discuss or theories to expound on. The weekend would go by so quickly and with so little getting done.

We were not like other families. Our weekends were not for chores or church or other activities—they were for sitting and talking and eating and drinking coffee and smoking and catching up with friends. They were for seeing who could KICK the basketball into the hoop….about who could make the best volcano out of an orange juice can, some plaster of Paris and a hole in the ground. They were about making a makeshift badminton court with a volleyball net, with a mix of tennis, squash and actual badminton racquets and then having endless “world championships!!!!”

My family had made procrastination an art form and I continued the tradition not in a backyard but on the streets of the city. It was my lazy summer wanderings around NYC that led me to the man who reintroduced me to my husband who later became the father of my idle and ideally beautiful girl. See procrastination is very helpful.

The self-help gurus are missing an important point about procrastination which is that it is a gift. Procrastination is the gift of time. Procrastination is actually one step beyond the advice of don’t cross that bridge until you get to it. Procrastination is--why bother with the bridge—let’s fish on the bank and plunge into the cool river water for a swim and relax in the sun. So many things are gained when you let go of a schedule, of a time line, of too many commitments…

Coffee anyone?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Products for Procrastinators

I ran out of gas again. While walking to the nearest gas station my daughter said "Mom, why don't you just keep a gas can in the car?". I told her that it's funny she should ask that because I lied on my blog and said that I was going to do just that. "But why don't you just do it?" she asked logically. "Because it smells" I told her. So I got to thinking about what a killing some Acme company could make, if the developed products specifically for procrastinators. Like an odorless gas can, for example. Or a service that could take care of all those loathful tasks that procrastinators always put off, like renewing our car registration, replacing our EZ passes, etc.

Perhaps the reason there are no products and services for procrastinators is because developers are not aware of the market potential. Why is this? Because we are not proud enough. Procrastinators need to come out of the closet and let their demands be known! We are here, and lord knows we'll never get around to making these products ourselves, so Acme get busy!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Procrastinators may not be the best pet owners

While it is true that pets can provide an endless source of procrastination, they are not always the best choice for procrastinators. Pets need to be cared for, and sometimes, well, we may put that off. The results are sometimes tragic.

Last week, my cat met its untimely death. Its death was not technically my fault. It got hit by a car. I was not driving the car. But after we adopted them several years ago (it had a brother - that one just disappeared) and they started ripping up all our furniture and sweaters, etc., we planned on getting them de-clawed. But that never happened. Instead, we sort of encouraged them to go outside. The rest is history.

I don't really like cats. In fact, for a split second, when I saw the cat laying on the road before work, I thought perhaps I could get away with pretending I didn't see it. But I forced myself to walk down and confirm that it was in fact dead. My daughter is a bit of a drama queen, so I didn't really want to have to deal with the crying and carrying on first thing in the morning, especially since she really cared very little for the animal while it was alive. So I scooped it up, placed it a box, snuck around back, left it on the porch, and left a note for my husband to please "deal with it".

That was on Thursday. On Sunday, my husband remembered that he never did "deal with it". It had rained quite a bit since the hit, so the box was now soggy, and body was now a bit decomposed. We tried to dig a respectable grave, but we live in a land of rocks, and it was pouring out, so we just couldn't manage to dig it big enough to fit the entire box in. Instead we got it in as far as we could, stacked rocks on top of the box, and then covered it with leaves and branches. Hopefully it will settle before Spring.

I'm definitely thinking twice before the next one....

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Keep Your Studies Off My Self

Let's face it, I'm fort-five at the apex, facing downhill, and it ain't all pretty. But according the recent Stevenson and Wolfers study my failure to achieve bliss is due to, The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness. The study authors claim that in the 1970s men reported to be generally less happy then women, but now the reverse is true. But I don't buy it. First of all, happiness does not lend itself to narration, for either gender, so the question is hard to answer honestly if the questionee is not happy at that particular time. This is particularly true for men. Women often reflect and ask themselves if they are happy. But you ask that question to men, and you are going to get a different answer depending on whether their most recent needs have been met or not, and we're talking here, basically, whether they've been fed, laid, or their digestion system is operating properly. For women, there's a few more factors, and the range of factors have most definitely changed since the 1970s.

So I would argue, that generally people are less happy. Perhaps that's because we've traded quality time for crap. But whatever the reason, the state of the world, or the degree of equality for women, is not responsible for my personal satisfaction. I know what I want to make me happy, but I also know that you can't always get what you want, and therefore must learn to be happy in spite of it.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Procrastination Pay Offs

"Do you know anything about child psychology?" asked an anxious, young mom outside ballet class. She seemed confused when I started laughing hysterically; I could see she was desperate so I quickly replied "I only have one and she was an accident", freeing her up to seek advise elsewhere. But the stress melted off her face and she started laughing too. I suppose the realization that for some, parenting was not only not scrutinized, it wasn't even planned, was somewhat liberating, and set aside whatever issue she was fretting over (what it was, by the way, I did not bother to ask).

Accidents are modi operandi for procrastinators. My accidents certainly have caused me a lot of angst as well as cost me a lot of cash. However, some of the best things in my life have also been the result of accidents, including my greatest mistake, motherhood. Sometimes procrastination pays off.

"Accident is the name of the greatest of all inventors."
- Mark Twain